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Do Presbyterians Out-Pray Baptists?

It was after the Korean War that I set foot on Korean soil for the first time. On arriving in Seoul, I got into contact with the Presbyterian church at the South Gate. I was invited to give a short address at the prayer meeting next morning. I was happy to agree, but a good deal surprised when I was told the time of the meeting — five A.M.

Five o’clock, and in that cold! The thought flashed through my mind, “Who on earth would turn up?” I went to my hotel. My alarm rang at four A.M. Rain was beating against my window. My first thought was, “The prayer meeting will be cancelled because of the rain.” I pulled the blanket up to my chin and tried to go to sleep again. I was unsuccessful. “You must at least keep your word and put in an appearance, even if there’s no one there but the minister,” I told myself. So at last I got dressed, rather reluctantly, and set off. It was not exactly encouraging to find that the taxi driver was asking double fare — still, I supposed he was entitled to the rate for night journeys.

The Presbyterian church came into view, a severe, very plain building with unglazed windows. Snow and rain blew into the church through the gaping frames. Yet again I told myself, “You’ve come here for nothing. No one attends prayer meetings at five o’clock in the morning in the cold, wet weather like this…” I braced myself against the wind and entered the church. What did I see? My eyes nearly popped out of my head — the whole place was crammed with people. There were no seats; the congregation was squatting or kneeling on straw mats. I was staggered. I went up to the platform, quite at a loss, and turned to the leading brethren. “What does this mean?” I asked. “The whole congregation can’t have been summoned to welcome one missionary!”

“This is our regular prayer meeting,” was the answer. “What, in the middle of the week?” I asked incredulously. “Not on Sundays when the members of the congregation have more time?” “We come together daily,” they explained to me. Again I felt my breath was taken away. “How many people are there present?” I enquired. “Almost 3000 –  the whole congregation.” I felt dazed, and asked no more questions.

One of the elders announced a hymn, and at once began to sing. There was no organ accompaniment, no hymn books; they had no musical instruments at all in this bleak building, which was more like a derelict factory than a church. Then they prayed, all 3000 members of the congregation at once. If I had been told of such an occurrence before, I would have dismissed it as fanatical zeal. But I could feel the harmony of the Holy Spirit in this prayer. There was no disorder; it invited no comparison with the noisy praying of the extremist sects. The people prayed for nearly an hour.

Then one of the elders asked me to give my address, adding, “A short one, please, not longer than an hour. These people have to go to work at seven o’clock.” A short address lasting an hour! The words echoed in my mind. In what country of the Western world could the minister preach for an hour at a prayer meeting? In any case, my sermon had quite gone out of my head while these people were praying. What had I to say to the brethren and sisters present? It was they who had preached a sermon to me before I ever opened my mouth. In a spiritual situation of this kind I seemed to myself utterly insignificant, tiny and pitiable. The congregation needed no missionary from the Western world — unless it were for the missionaries themselves to learn the true meaning of prayer.

Next day, when I was talking to a missionary, I put these thoughts into words. “What are we doing here?” I asked him. “We are quite superfluous!” He understood, and agreed with me. “We are here to be shown what a community living in the spirit of the New Testament is really like.”

“Pray without ceasing!”the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5: 17). I have not seen this biblical admonition carried out so thoroughly anywhere as in Korea. Perhaps it may be the same today in the revivalist regions of Indonesia.

I had not yet recovered from the shock of that first prayer meeting before I found myself attending the next one. I was drawn into the wake of this throng of people praying. For the first time I really understood the words of Acts 2: 46: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple…” Daily! What have we come to in the Christian communities of the West? We pray for an awakening, and nothing happens — do we wonder at it?

At the third prayer meeting of the morning I asked the brethren, “How often in the week does your group come together to pray?” They replied, “Every day.” Three separate prayer groups meeting every morning! “How long has this custom been in force?” I asked. “Five years,” was the reply. I began doing sums: 365×5x3 comes to 5475 hours of prayer, each attended by 3000 people. Should we not expect such a prayer to reach the throne of God?

But I had not yet learnt everything; only in the course of a stay of several weeks did I gradually come to know all the wonderful secrets of this community of men and women of prayer. There was a prayer service at night. Every evening a group of some 100 Christians met to pray. The groups alternated, of course, with different people coming together each evening — and every night for five years, a hundred members of this congregation had been in prayer until dawn. Once a week, from Saturday to Sunday, a thousand Christians prayed all night long. For the first time I was brought to understand the words of Acts 12: 5: “Prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God.”

– Taken from Rene Monod, The Korean Revival, pages 32-35